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September 14, 2000
Gowda Saraswat Brahmin high priests battle it out
D Jose in Thiruvananthapuram
A high priest of the prosperous Gowda Saraswat Brahmin community, spread over Kerala, Karnataka, Goa and Maharashtra, has secured a court injunction against another, in a battle for supremacy.
The injunction was passed by the third additional district judge, Tirupati on a petition filed by Swami Raghavendra Thirtha, anointed twenty-first pontiff of the Sri Kashi Math Samsthan, challenging his predecessor's religious edict, removing him from the coveted position.
The 28-year-old junior swamy, seated at Tirupati, contended that the July 21 edict was not binding since senior swamy Sudhindra Thirtha had abdicated his position and passed on most powers and privileges to him on December 12, 1994. He pointed out that the Vyasa-Raghupathi idols, considered symbols of the math's authority, were handed over to him.
The petition contended that the senior swamy had abdicated his powers and responsibilities through a public proclamation, to retire to Haridwar and spend life in spiritual pursuits.
Trouble for the junior swamy started when a memorandum signed by 112 members of the Gowda Saraswat Brahmin Temples Association, Mangalore, was submitted to Sudhindra Tirtha, questioning his efficiency and religious capabilities in November 1999. This forced Raghavendra to request the senior to relieve him from dharmic activities pertaining to some institutions.
The senior swamy acceded to his request. However, his followers cited the junior swamy's request as an open expression of religious disabilities and launched a campaign against him. The led to the dismissal of the junior swamy on July 21.
The junior swamy moved the court following failure of several efforts by community members to patch up their differences. Hundreds of senior members, who met at Cherthala in Alappuzha district, also appealed to the swamis, hailing from Kochi, to sink their differences.
Bombay's Walkeshwar Kashi Math had set up a core committee to get the senior swamy's order implemented. An all-India meeting of Gowda Saraswat Brahmins at Sri Walkeshwar Kashi Math in Bombay on September 9 had urged Raghavendra to "immediately surrender unconditionally at the lotus feet of Sudhindra Thirtha Swamiji".
The dispute threatens to split the otherwise well-knit Gowda Saraswat Brahmin community. Senior community members in Kerala have expressed anguish over the developments, which they feel have tarnished the community's image. They maintained that the battle between the two spiritual heads would damage the community.
Senior members believe that the tussle is a manifestation of a proxy war between their coteries. They feel that the battle is for the immense wealth controlled by the samsthan. There have been allegations of financial irregularity in the running of the institutions and management of properties. Siphoning of funds worth millions was alleged in the construction of a Rs 30 million temple at Gwalior in Madhya Pradesh.
The income tax department had frozen fixed deposits in the name of Raghavendra Thirtha in two banks in Mangalore as he had failed to file tax returns for the assessment year 1999-2000.
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